Japan Says Progress Being Made in Stablizing Nuclear Plant

Posted July 20th, 2011 at 7:10 pm (UTC-5)
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Japanese government agencies and the owner of the crippled Fukushima nuclear power plant say the plant is now stabilized, and that they are moving on to the next phase of bringing its reactors under control.

The special state minister in charge of the four-month-old crisis, Goshi Hosono, said Wednesday in Tokyo that although progress has been slow, “we are now on the right track.”

But the environmental group Greenpeace says Tokyo Electric Power Company and the government have rushed formal deadlines and that it could be decades before the crisis ends.

Journalists on Wednesday repeatedly asked for cumulative data on radiation exposure from the leaking plant, which was badly damaged in an earthquake and tsunami that hit northeastern Japan March 11.

An official with the Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency said another government entity that now handles the reports may be finding it difficult to “back calculate” the total radiation released because the density levels in the surrounding area in the last few months are so much lower.

Officials say radiation emissions from the plant are a small fraction of the peak recorded shortly after the earthquake.

Three of the six reactors at the plant melted down after the disaster.

Authorities expect to bring all six reactors to the safe state known as the “cold shutdown” by mid-January.

A “cold shutdown” means the water inside a reactor is below 100 degrees Celsius at normal atmospheric pressure – conditions that indicate the reactor's radioactive uranium fuel is safe from heating up again.

Also, the government on Wednesday asked residents in Osaka, Japan's second largest metropolitan area, to cut their electricity use. Because of the Fukushima disaster, several other nuclear reactors have been shut for safety tests, causing power shortages in some areas, including Tokyo.

The earthquake left more than 20,000 people dead or missing, and tens of thousands homeless. Radiation leaking from the Fukushima plant also forced thousands out of their homes. Crops, milk, seafood and fish near the Fukushima plant were contaminated by fallout. Beef from more than 1,000 cows, which ate feed contaminated with radioactive cesium, was sold across the country, prompting a government ban on sales of beef from Fukushima prefecture.